In Progress

Dedicated to Pre-Bebop Jazz Guitar

Disclaimer: All of the opinions expressed herein are solely those of Jonathan Stout, 
and NOT the Campus Five or Hilary Alexander


2015 Holiday Gift Guide

Since it’s almost time to hang those stockings, I figured I’d give an updated list of some of my favorite Swing Guitar-related items that make suitable stocking stuffers. I’m sure we want Santa to leave a D’Angelico or a Stromberg under the tree, but these are all things Santa might actually be able to pull off. 


While many of these are available as mp3s or what have you, I find that many of these come with liner notes. Good liner notes give you the personnel and dates on each song, and often a nice critical explanation of the tunes. I’ve bought many things digitally, only to have to scour the internet to find out who was playing on a given session. Digital is better than nothing, but I always try to hold out for something with liner notes when I can. 

Charlie Christian - The Genius of the Electric Guitar

The very best collection of Charlie Christian in the studio. Edited takes have been put back to their original state, and the remastering is excellent. One example is how on “Sheik of Araby” you can really hear the pitches of Nick Fatool’s tom-toms, instead indistinct thuds. The rehearsals and jam sessions on disc four provide a window into the real people involved, instead of just picturing them as 2-dimensional black and white photos. It’s out of print, but it’s worth searching out for this box set, no question. Plus the damn box is fashioned after an EH-150 amp! How can you resist?!

Swing to Bop: Guitars in Flight 1939-1947 

This is a fantastic collection of some more obscure players and tracks. There’s some wonderfully Django-influenced early Les Paul, as well as some really jumpin’ Mary Osbourne, one of the first players to be influenced by Charlie Christian. Her version of “Rose Room” is so badass. There is also some of the George Barnes Octet stuff, and some great Tony Mattola small group stuff. Perhaps my favorite track, unavailable anywhere else, is Carl Kress and Tony Mattola playing “Davenport Blues” live on some radio show. The spoken introduction is priceless, and the tune is even better. 

Very Best of Swingin’ Jive Guitarists

I’m not going to lie, I basically bought this one just for one song, “I Never Knew” by Peck’s Bad Boys, featuring one Mr. Allan Reuss. I don’t believe there is another CD issue of that track anywhere. But, there’s a ton of other good stuff on here from Bernard Addison, Al Casey, Eddie Lang (in the context of a band, not simply solo), several other lesser known guitar players, and even the reclusive Snoozer Quinn. 

Benny Carter - The Complete Benny Carter (Keynote) 

The Arnold Ross Quintet Sessions with Benny Carter are some of the very best examples of Allan Reuss’ playing. More over, there are multiple takes, which is wonderful insight into what parts and phrases were worked out and which were improvised. Some of the other collected tracks featuring an unidentified electric guitarist of interest as well. 

Django Reinhardt: Jazz Tribune, No. 39: The Indispensable Django Reinhardt, 1949-1950

While far from an exhaustive survey of Django Reinhardt’s playing, this two CD collection of 1949-1950 contains some of my favorite recordings of Django. There’s both some acoustic playing and some great electric playing. Among the great tracks, it contains one of my favorite Django tracks of all time, “The World is Waiting for the Sunrise”.  


These are problem the three most essential books on swing guitar playing.

Swing and Big Band Guitar: Four-To-The-Bar Comping in the Style of Freddie Green - Charlton Johnston

For all my complaints about it, this is still the most authoritative book on the subject of Freddie Green style playing. I highly recommend the chapter on inversions, since that is where one can learn to “walk” voicings up and down the neck. Just don’t bother listening to the example CD, because it’s straight-ahead jazz dreck. 

Swing to Bop: The Music of Charlie Christian - Stan Avyeroff 

The exhaustive resource of Charlie Christian transcription is the best available on the subject. There’s no tab, so you;ll need to work the fingerings yourself. Once you have a firm grip on Charlie’s patterns, that becomes easier to do. 

Ivor Mairants: The Great Jazz Guitarists, Pt. 1

I’m a little wary of revealing one of the best resources I’ve ever found for pre-war jazz guitar playing. I felt like keeping it secret for a long time, but I have to share. There are transcriptions of Allan Reuss, Oscar Aleman, George Van Eps, Carl Kress, as well as multiple transcriptions of Eddie Lang, Lonnie Johnson, DickMcDonough, Teddy Bunn, Django Reinhardt, Eddie Durham and Charlie Christian. Plus there’s some interesting analysis of the change from the Eddie Lang/Lonnie Johnson-era - the “First Guitar School”, to the “Second Guitar School” of McDonough/Van Eps/Kress and the rest. Fascinating stuff!


These are just some favorite accessories that might make a good stocking stuffer.

K&M Heli 2 Acoustic Guitar Stand 

My favorite gigging guitar stand. Foldable, light, but very steady. Although the surfaces are not certified to be non-reactive with nitrocellulose lacquer, I’ve never seen any reactions, and I only use them for stage use, so I doubt I ever will. The only downside, for me, is that the recessed tailpiece jack of my ES-150 requires a stand with greater ground clearance (for which I have a Hercules model that holds the guitar by the neck).

Dunlop Primtetone 1.0mm Standard Sculpted Guitar Pick (w/o Grip)

Primeness have become my new go-to, everyday pics. I really love Blue Chips, but they are also $35 a pop. These Dunlops are only a little more than a dollar, and give much of the same feel. I find I like them better the more they break in. For harder-playing gigs, and for anything where I need to mitigate treble, I still reach for a 1.2mm Wegen, but for day-to-day playing, it’s hard to beat the 1.0mm Primetone. I also keep a couple Primetones in heavier gauge around for variety. Be warned there is also a model of the same name WITH a grip, and that is made from a completely different plastic - those are cool too, but definitely not as much like a Blue Chip. 

Snark SN-8 Tuner

A guitar tech friend of mine coined a turn of phrase I really loved, and I’ve repeated many times since: “The Snark: for when close enough is good enough.” He was joking about the use of something like a Snark for fine tuning intonation, which is clearly a job for something much more sensitive, like a strobe tuner. But for day-to-day tuning, and quick on-stage tuning checks, the Snark is more than sufficient. But almost more importantly, the price point for a Snark is so low, that loosing or breaking them isn’t the end of the world. They work well enough, they’re much easier to read than some of the budget, cheapo tuners out there, and they’re dirt cheap. I always have a bunch lying around, and when I start to notice I’ve misplaced one, I just order another. 

Just Strings: Bulk Strings 

If you’re like me, you might use a particular set of strings, but feel compelled to bump up the gauge of the high E and B strings. Problem one is that it leaves you with quite a few extra E and B strings in gauges you might not want. But the much bigger problem is needing an extra single string of both the B and E in the designated gauge. Plain steel strings are basically fungible, and the brands are basically the same, so you go with any brand of single string - D’Addario, Ernie Ball, whatever. And you’ll need to pack some individually wrapped single strings with you for gigs, in case you break a string on the gig. But at home, I tend to buy a pack of a dozen single strings from Just Strings in 13, 14, 17 and 18 gauges, and leave the individually packaged single strings in my gig bag. The Just Strings bulk strings come by the dozen, bagged in a long vinyl pouch. Just find a poster tube or something to store them, and you’re set. 

Belkin 6-outlet Surge Protector with Rotating Plug (8 ft)

It seems dumb put something as fungible as serge protector on this list. After all, unless you’re looking at something that has real protection, or line conditioning (ala a Furman or something), one office supply store surge protect is as good as another right? Maybe, but the benefit of the Belkin suggester here is that the plug head rotates for more options when plugging it in, and it has an 8 foot cable built-in. I can’t tell you how many times the cable from a normal surge protector almost, but didn’t quite reach to where I needed it to be, resulting in me daisy chaining multiple surge protectors in a row. Using the 8 foot Belkin has kept me from breaking out an extension cable in months. Of course, there are still times you’re going to need a 25- or 50-foot extension cable, but for so many stages, the 8 feet attached to the power strip is more than enough.

Monoprice XLR Cables
25 ft cables
50 ft cables

About 2 years ago I tried out moonrise XLR cables. Based on the high quality and low price, I eventually replaced all of our XLR cables with them. A couple of our mics where particularly sensitive about certain cables and certain jacks being ill fitting, causing a lot of pops and cutting out. Once we switched to monoprice, we never again had these kinds of problems. I also order a bunch of shorter run XLR’s for connecting my Lav Mic->Mute Switch->A/B Box combo together, before using two longer XLR’s to send to the board. If and when they eventually wear out, the low replacement cost still has you ahead of the rest. 


Flight Case Blues: Cracking Canadian Calton Bumpers - FIXED with Sugru

The previous owner of my '32 Epiphone Deluxe had a Canadian-made Calton Case custom-built for the guitar, and once I bought the guitar, I just had to buy the case for it too. For those unfamiliar, Calton cases are considered the standard in flight cases. They are generally custom built to fit your specific guitar (though models in standard shapes are generally available), have a fiberglass shell and are designed to be checked over and over again for years and years. The main drawback is that the cases are pretty friggin' heavy - schleping one on my back around NYC did kind of suck. Still, I can check the thing and not give it a second thought. The extensive padding fully isolates the guitar from impacts, even with airline baggage handlers doing their worst.

Originally made in the UK, a Canadian franchise was opened for North American sales, but eventually, after a couple of years of poor customer service and trouble keeping up with orders, the Canadian company folded. Recently, an Austin-based US Franchise has resurrected the brand, and all indications are the cases are better than ever. But, since the US company has no relationship or responsability for the Canadian cases, it means there is basically no service or support for the older cases. 

One of the design changes from the Canadian cases to the new US ones is a switch away from plastic or rubber bumpers, because the ones they used tend to get brittle and eventually crack, finally falling off leaving an unprotected screw that can catch on things or get bashed into the guitar. 

I was able to find some information on one Canadian dealer who was still providing replacement bumpers, but even after he kindly sent me some (for free! what a guy!), more of them fell off, so I was still left with some unprotected screws. 

Eventually it occurred to me that Sugru might work. Sugru is a moldable silicone rubber that cures into shape in about 24 hours.  I've been hearing about Sugru for a couple years now as an amazing "fix it all" product, but I'd never had occasion to work with it. I finally order some last week. Here's how it comes:

So here's what I did:

And the final product:

Sugru cures in 24 hours, though they advise thicker forms may need additional time. I gave it 3 days, it is perfect. The bumper is solid, but not rock hard - ideal for being durable while absorbing repeated impacts. The second bumper I made using Sugru wasn't as pretty, but it totally works. We'll see how these sugru bumpers handle their next flight for Lindy Focus.

It was $22 for 8 packets from Amazon. That comes to $2.75 per bumper. Not bad, right? Also, I'll be watching as the other bumpers begin to crack over time, and see if Sugru might be helpful in repairing them before they fall off. 

Of course, the US-made Calton cases in current production don't use these bumpers any more, so they don't have that problem. As for me, when I had a case made for my ES-150, I went with Hoffee Cases. Expect a review of the Hoffee sometime soon. 


Chord Melody Transcription - Sunday

I've been working on chord-melody playing for the last couple months, and occasionally posting some of the tunes on our youtube channel, One of the most common comments on those videos is a request for another chord melody lesson and/or a transcription. 

I recorded and posted this video of "Sunday" yesterday, and I was able to crank out a rough transcription this afternoon. I wanted to get something up asap, since I tend to start, but then never finish, stuff like that. So, here's a tabbed-out transcription of the head of the tune. 

Here's a link to a PDF. At some point, I'll try to sketch out the second, ad-lib chorus. Cheers.


NGD: 1932 Epiphone De Luxe

So, I've been cyberstalking every guitar store that deals in acoustic archtops for a couple months looking for a 16" L-5, or at least that was the theoretical goal. The very best examples of acoustic archtop I've ever played were the few '28-29 L-5's I've played, along with Joe Vinikow's personal 16" walnut-backed broadway, and John Collins' D'Angelico Excel. I also hadn't played a bad 20's L-5, although I'm sure they're out there. There was also a wonderful 40's Deluxe owned by my friend that owns the acoustic music store in Denver. I had an idea that a 20's L-5 would be a good match, but I also knew that not having owned any vintage acoustic archtops, I had a lot to learn.

I picked up the 1935 Gibson L-12 I posed about previously, because I spotted a good deal, and indicia that the guitar would be something special (super light weight, a ton of play wear). But I also was interested in learning about what an "advanced", x-braced guitar would sound and feel like. Well, after dialing in the strings gauges to really make the guitar sing, it's been a very interesting and inspiring learning process. I've been so inspired to play solo guitar, chord-melody type stuff, and it's because the guitar is it's own orchestra. Deep bass, nice treble zing, and sustain. Of course, even with those strengths, it has drawbacks. One small complaint are the tuners and frets - nothing worse than playing chord melody and just one random fret here or there is just out of tune enough to drive you crazy! 

Still, the most intresting thing to learn was how amazing that guitar sounds alone, or in a duo or trio context, compared to how it sounds in a band with a full rhythm section. The L-12's rich bass is unnecessary when playing with a bass player, and the sustain and nice treble are lost when playing with drums and horns. It's as if the guitar simply disappears in a band. Since I do almost all of my playing with rhythm sections and horns, I could tell that the L-12 was not going to be "THE" guitar for me. That said, I can tell that this specific L-12 is a great one, and it's something I will keep for a long time. At home, alone, I tend to find it the most satisfying to play because it's so balanced. 

So, learning from that, I figured I would be better suited to something on the "punchier" edge of the spectrum: Epiphones (which are all parallel-braced) and parallel-braced Gibsons. If nothing else, I had a great sounding chord melody guitar I could keep, and so I figured I should be looking for more of a rhythm and single-note cannon. And so I kept cyberstocking.

I noticed Lark Street music listed a 1931 Epiphone De Luxe that looked awfully familiar. I recognized it as my friend Ted's guitar, so I checked with him about it. He's known me and my playing for 10 years, and he said this would be the perfect guitar for me, and that it easily beat out a 16" L-5. After a bit more research, I found the archived listing Fine Vintage Instruments Online from when Ted bought it. (1932 Epiphone Deluxe) Anyway, I got a 48 hour approval period, and Ted basically intimated he'd buy it back from me if I didn't love it, so I couldn't say no with such guarantees. 

I had the guitar shipped directly to my favorite local music store/repair shop, Westwood Music, so I could have them look at it and adjust it if need be. I brought the L-12 along for comparison. 

I'm gonna be honest here - I hated it. 

I took a couple of days to play the thing constantly, changing strings and gauges, and it took until the 11th hour before I would have to send it back, but then it clicked with me. I think, partially, the guitar was dealing with some issues related to the travel and climate (it was unusually humid in Los Angeles when it arrived), and the guitar didn't feel "open". However, I came to realize that such a guitar is an entirely different animal than the L-12, and the L-12 had set my expectations wrong. The joke I've been making is that I felt that "This apple is such a crappy orange!" 

I decided to keep the guitar and took it with me to Lincoln Center and Beantown, and used the opportunity to guitar shop while I was in those fine cities. What was very satisfying was how the De Luxe stood up to even the fanciest of guitars. However, because I hadn't had a gig where I could compare the performance of the L-12 to the De Luxe, I couldn't fully appreaciate the De Luxe. 

Then after we got back, I had a wedding gig where I was stuck playing drums. Fortunately our good friend Craig Gildner was in town on vacation and agreed to cover the guitar chair. He didn't bing a guitar with him, but of course, I had guitars he could use, HA! Anyway, I had the perspective of sitting on the drum throne listening to him alternate between the De Luxe and the L-12, and it was perfectly clear how perfect the De Luxe sounded in a band context. The rhythm chords jumped, chord melody solos jumped, single notes jumped! And the L-12 disappeared by comparison. Before the band started, I had to do an hour of solo-guitar on the patio by myself, and I used the L-12, and it sounded profoundly good. So, it's not to say that the L-12 doesn't have it's uses. However, for most of what I do, the De Luxe is exactly what the doctor ordered. 

Anyway, here's a video review of the guitar, and I hope you enjoy it:


NGD: 1935 Gibson L-12

Without pickguard, as arrived.

So, I find myself in the market for a serious vintage acoustic archtop, and I've been cyberstalking every pre-war Gibson or Epiphone on the internet for weeks. Nothing wrong with my Eastman (quite the contrary, it's been providing a benchmark many of the vintage axes I play fail to meet), but it's time (financially and logistically) to invest in a serious, real-deal vintage guitar. 

Now I've been at a loss for what exactly I want in such a guitar, other than it being something truly special sounding. Does that mean 16" or 17"? Parallel- or X-braced? Gibson or Epiphone? I'm not 100% sure. It has to be something really open and resonant - something that speaks to me. 

I was focused mostly on a 16" Gibson L-5, because several of the best guitars I've ever played have been 20's L-5's. However, I was also open to something like a 30's Walnut-backed Epiphone Broadway, because those can be really cannons, and even open to something like an Epiphone Deluxe or Emperor. I also didn't want to exclude a 30's advanced 17" Gibsons, because not having played very many, I couldn't really say if it was something I wold dig or not. 

I'd been watching everything online very carefully, and was pretty pissed when I saw a great looking 16" L5 get sold in a matter a couple days after listing from a music store in Kansas, and every other 16" L5 was either refinished, renecked, or had a replacement fingerboard, or was a signed Lloyd Loar and this absurdly expensive. Now, while a guitar with major work, or a refin, or whatever could still be awesome sound if done right, but since I couldn't play it first, I was reluctant to drop $8k-$10k even if there was a trial period. I even found a local walnut-backed Broadway, but it would've needed at least a refret, if not a full neck reset. Although it was comparably affordable, I was worried about the guitar being a money pit. 

Well, I was watching an ebay listing for a 1935 Gibson L-12, which is a 17" advanced, X-braced guitar. The guitar had fail to sell once because the reserve was not met. On the second go-around, there was little to no attention being paid to the guitar and the price was very low. The thing that struck me the most was the ridiculous playwear on the back of the neck - clearly that guitar had been played a lot, and for decades. I watched the auction during dinner on my phone, and managed to snipe it manually for below what the previous auction had ended at, and a good $500-$1000 under value. I was a little hesitant to buy the guitar without having played it, but there was a 24-hour return period, and at worst, I'd be out the shipping. 

Well, it arrived today, and the first thing I noticed was how light the package was. Turns out the play wear was only one of the telltale signs of a great acoustic archtop, this guitar was super light too. Awesome. I was so excited I un-boxed in my mailbox place. I put the bridge on, and slowly brought the strings up to tension, and was immediately pleasantly surprised. I brought it home, futzed with the bridge placement slightly, and was greated by an amazingly open, resonant, singing guitar - every bit what a pre-war, X-braced 17" archtop should be. Check out the back of the neck:

I was taking a webcam video to show a friend, and just decided to a full review and playing demo on it. So check it out. 

Since recording the video, I learned that this guitar definitely has a maple neck. I thought mahogany necks were one of the features separating L5's from the lesser L-12 and L-7, but that only turns out to be true of 16", pre-advanced models. However, there are mahogany examples of 17" L7's and L12's, but those are less common.

Also, I threw at set of 13's on the guitar and had it set up. Unfortunately, after a couple of days it was crystal clear that it was just not working with 13's on it. Going back to 12's (of course with a 13/18 pair swapped in on top), and the guitar came back to life. The 13's felt and sounded like they were throttling the guitar, and almost over driving the top, rather than making it sing freely. I still believe in using the heaviest strings you can, but I'd add using the heaviest strings that sound good on your guitar. This was clearly a case where 12's were perfectly sufficient to make the top move.

Since this guitar was only a 3rd of what I'd budgeted for my "investment", I have some options. I could trade this toward something like an L5, or I could keep it, and look for something else, like perhaps the more reasonably priced Epiphone line to have something that contrasts the L-12, or who knows. 

I'm just excited to get to play a really open-sounding 80-year-old guitar for right now, and learn as much as I can about the sound of 17" X-braced Gibsons. 

UPDATE: Here's what it looks like with a repro-pickguard from



The Internet Archive saves Charlie Christian sites!

Hey, so I like to think of myself as relatively computer savvy, but it never occurred to me to try looking for Gary Hansen's lost Charlie Christian website using the Internet Archive... until this morning. It occurred to me because the other GREAT Charlie Christian website, Leo Valdes's Solo Flight, has now disappeared. 

So, may I present to you... working links for the internet's two best sources of Charlie Christian content, and two sites that were absurldy important for my development as a Swing Guitar player:

Gary Hansen's Charlie Christian Site (via - featuring many transcriptions in both notes and tab, and lessons on the "geometric" pattern-based playing of Charlie Christian

Leo Valdez's Solo Flight (via - featuring many transcriptions and other resources, most notable for it's alternative theories on Charlie's fingerings of certain patters. Some of them make perfect sense, others not so much. Still, it's a valueable resource. 


New Gear: National Style 1 Tricone in Vintage Silver

I'm not gonna lie: John Reynolds is my hero. Always has been, probably always will be. 

John Reynolds plays a National. A Tricone National. 

Ever since I had a lesson with John 15 years ago, I've always wanted a National. Even my wife, who is usually against any additions to the guitar colelction, would always agree that I should have one someday. Well, just before Christmas, a bunch of things came together, and I got my wish. 

I had resisted the urge to buy one of the suprisingly decent Republic resonators guitar when they came out a couple years ago, because every time I compared one to a National, there was no question that a real National just had "it", and the Republic was an ok copy, but it wasn't magic the way a National is. I had also decided to wait for a Tricone, specifically a Style 1 (the plainest metal-bodied one), even though I did also enjoy the brasher and louder tone of a Style 0 Single-Cone. John was kind enough to lend me is ~1930 National Style 0 Single-Cone for a gig, which I definitely kept longer than I should have - it was too fun to give back!!!1

Anyway, I just happened to see an ebay listing for a barely used 2012 Style 1, and this one wasn't made of the regular brass, but rather of "German Silver" which is an alloy even closer to the original 20's-30's Nationals. Now, I personally think the National Guitars made in San Luis Obispo in the modern era are easily every bit a great sounding as the original ones (let's face it, metal doesn't age like wood does!), and the standard brass alloy sounds fantastic - but the "German Silver" is even warmer soudning and weighs slightly less (it's still pretty damn heavy, though). 

Though the guitar didn't make it in time to open Christmas morning, once it arrived, I was delighted to find that it was every bit as good as I'd always wanted. Here's a couple videos of me playing it. Enjoy.

"All of Me"

"Blue Skies"


Guitar Volume Knob Positions and Charlie Christian-type Tone

Over at the Just Jazz Guitar boards, there has been an ongoing thread about "Oscar Moore" tone, and I would chime in from time to time on it. Tim Lerch recently posted about his observations on the effect of the guitar volume knob position as it relates to the tone of the amp. He wrote:

"It is my belief that back in the day the players would almost never have the volume knob on their guitars all the way up, they would often run them quite low in the half way up range. This changed the quality of the sound quite a bit allowing them to get a cleaner slightly brighter tone than would result if they had played on full." (See his specific post, and the rest of the thread HERE)

I had noticed something similar, but I always seemed to need my volume knob all the way up to get sufficient stage volume. After seeing someone else observe it, I did some playing, and I tend to agree completely. 

I decided the best way to show you what I was hearing was to make video demoing different volume knob positions. Enjoy.

And here's a bonus clip of me just playing through a bit of "It's Only a Paper Moon":


Gift Guide: Picks (and ruminations on picks and setup)

As the holidays approach and you're looking for something to get the guitar players in your life (or get yourself!), here's some suggestions, along with some thoughts about the sublime, yet somewhat ridiculous, universe of guitar picks.

If you look through online discussion forums, or youtube video reviews, there is a lot time spent discussing picks. On the one hand, the guitar pick itself is an incredibly small part of the equation, and they are essentially fungible, on the other, they can be a very important part of one's tone and playing technique. Just like every other part of one's tone chain, from the strings, to the setup, to one's instrument, to the amplification (if any), they can make all the difference, and yet are often never the magic bullet.

I've spent the better part of 14 years trying to figure out the "perfect" guitar pick for Swing Guitar. At first, when sheer acoustic volume was the top concern, the revelation that was the 5mm Wegen Fatone was such a giant leap over the alternatives (Big Stubby's and the like) that it was like we'd all found the secret. Even John Reynolds was using one and singing it's praises. Over the course of the next 8 or so years, I experimented with all many variations, including Red Bear, the Wegen Button, and even the gigantic 7mm Wegen! Toward the end of that phase I started tapering down, from the 5mm Wegen to the 3.5mm, and eventually to the 2.5mm. My observation at the time was that what the small picks lacked in sheer volume, they made up for in clarity of tone.

Eventually, I found myself in possession of a real tortoise-shell pick, repurposed from an antique of some kind. The quality of tone was significantly different than anything I'd used before, and I recognized it as the perfect blend of clarity and warmth. Of course, since this was a rare thing to have, there weren't "options" as to the thickness or shape, and since it was maybe a 1mm pick at most, it did begin to warp slightly with general use.

At this point I made yet another valuable observation: what sounds or feels best in one context is not necessarily what sounds or feels best in another. I tried using the tortoise pick on gigs, and sometimes it did not have sufficient thickness or stiffness to project in the given situation. Now, perhaps proper monitors would have been better than changing the pick, but we're not always in control of things like that. In cases where I needed to dig in more, I found myself switching picks to something heavier.

By now, I'd slimmed down to the 1.2mm Wegen from the 1.4mm Wegen, and had picked up several faux-tortoise alternatives which I was testing out. But then came yet another revelation: the magic of a proper guitar setup. I've written about this here before, but having my guitar truly and properly set up was life-changing. I had always assumed that very high action was necessary for sufficient acoustic volume and response. Consequently, you might need a thicker pick to wrangle such high strung strings. But, having a guitar that finds the perfect balance between projection and playability, allows one to play with better technique, less effort, and better, purer tone.

This shift again had me re-evaluating picks. I started trying out anything I could, just to see if it would sound good. I noticed fascinating differences between the tones each pick would produce. Even the difference between a standard Fender Heavy to a similarly sized Dunlop of various materials was noticeable if you were listening. Surprisingly, I noticed that the generic Heavy pick  had a tone that, on my Franken-150, reminded me distinctly of Charlie Christian. Who knew, right? There was just some magic combination of thickness, material and bevel that had a similar character.

But those really are the big three factors determining the tone of a guitar pick: material, thickness and tip shap/bevel. Harder picks, thinner picks, and sharply pointed or beveled picks were all brighter in different ways. Softer, thicker picks with a more rounded tips and bevels were all warmer. However, each factor changed the character in different ways, almost at different frequencies - so dialing in the perfect pick was finding a balance of all the factors, along with finding a pick that felt comfortable in your hand and either bent or didn't bend according to your preferences. When a pick starts to bend, it feels like a flat tire to me - essentially acting as a limiter: no matter how much harder you pick, you get no additional volume. I'm sure somebody out there enjoys the flex of thin or medium pick, but definitely not me. Add to that last point about flexibility, the fact that the final variable is your sound in the room/amplification. If you can't hear yourself well, and the pick is giving in, you will end up picking super hard with nothing to show for it.

After years, here's what I've decided against:

Giant Wegens: I still have one of each in my gear bag, just in case. I'm sure there might be a situation at some point where I might need the big ones to get through the gig, but for normal playing they are too much. Like cranking the action unnecessarily high, they end up just bashing the strings. Also, since they hit so hard, you kind of need higher action to keep them from mashing the strings into the fretboard and buzzing.

Red Bear: The high cost and custom nature of these picks makes them something I skip over. They ARE awesome picks, but it's almost impossible to experiment to find the right one. 

D'Andrea Pro-Plec: Faux-tortoise from the company that invented the celluloid guitar pick. However, I find the material to be far too soft, and thus the tone is dull. Adding my own bevel, just thinned the body out of the pick, rather than adding brightness. 

V-Pick: I tried several, and they never had enough warmth or body, and depending on the tip shape they could be entirely shrill. 

Alternative Natural Materials: horn, rock, wood, bone - all were either too hard and shrill, or too soft and dull. No good.


John Pearse Fat Turtles: These come in three sizes, 1.2mm, 2.5mm and 4.0mm, but have a non-symmetrical shape and huge depression in the middle. The don't come with much a bevel, so I always found that I needed to add one in. But, aside from not being my perfect match, they are excellent, and if you add the right bevel, they are fat and warm without being dull. 

Standard Celluloid 351 Heavy: Believe it or not, a standard heavy guitar pick often sounds really good in this style. I found that the slighty "click" provided by the house -brand pick really added to the Charlie-ness of the tone. Similarly, the standard Fender sounded excellent on my Eastman. The weakness is, of course, flexibility. Because of their relative thinness (compared to a 2mm-5mm pick), they only really worked for me in quiet settings, like playing at home. 

My FOUR go-to picks:

Blue Chip TD40: (1mm) I was killing some time in a music-store in Boulder, CO, and the owner ended up being really helpful about recommending a place where I could rent a suitable amp. I felt bad I'd taken up so much of his time, and was trying to find something I could buy, but he didn't carry my preferred string brands. He just happened to carry these, and despite being pretty damn expensive, he was cool with me playing it for a second first. I have to say that it was the best feeling pick I've ever played. The bevel is perfect and the tone produced on my Eastman is ideal. I never have to think about it, and it just feels right. My execution is more exact, and I can play things I might not otherwise be able to pull off. The only down side is that it is a touch to bright/twangy for my ES-150/EH-185 combo - as a result of hearing that twanginess, some of my standard lines sound more "western" than "swing", and while I dig that kind of thing, it's not what I'm trying to do in the Campus Five. Last bonus, I've been playing one consistently for months and there is little to no wear apparent. Just don't loose it!

Wegen 1.2mm AND1.4mm: I keep both of these around, the heavier one for playing my LeVoi, and the lighter one as an all purpose back up. Django-type guitars often need a bit thicker/rounder pick to add body, and the 1.4mm has a good balance of tone for my guitar. The 1.2m sounds good on all the guitars, and has less give when I need to play hard, so if I'm struggling and my pick isn't helping out, I'll switch to the 1.2mm. That said, at that thinness, the softness of the material becomes apparent, and sometimes there can be "feathering", burs of the material become raised and have to filed off. 

JB Picks 1.5mm RB: I quite like all of the options of JB Picks, and they're actually pretty reasonably priced. The 1mm sounds wonderful on my Eastman at home, and they're all around good picks in a nice faux-tortoise. The "twang" problem on my ES-150 is perfectly remedied by the fatness of the thicker 1.5mm with the default rounded bevel. The round bevel also contributes a welcome "click" to the attack that is reminiscent of Charlie. 

All that work, and I still have to carry around FOUR different picks. Of course, I still find myself vacillating back and forth between some of the options. Especially with the JBs because there are 1mm, 1.2mm and 1.5mm sizes with optional bevels. Sometimes, the brightness of the bevel is nice, but sometimes it's too much. I've been experimenting with the slightly thicker TD50 (1.25mm) on my ES-150 hoping for a bit more body. Perhaps I need to go all the way the ~1.5mm TD60. Oh - when does it end?! 
But seriously, I think there's a lot of great options in picks, but you really have to find what works best for your instrument, set up, strings, etc, and just what sounds and feels good in your hands. I doubt you could go wrong with my all-purpose pick of a 1.2mm Wegen, or the Blue Chip TD40 on an archtop. They're both great, and the line of JB picks is reasonably priced enough that you can experiment a bit with out spending a ton per pick. 


Video Lesson: Allan Reuss-Style Chord-Melody Soloing

I thought I'd something a bit different and do a video lesson rather than an article, this time about my favorite unsung guitar hero: Allan Reuss. 

There are so few resources available on Allan Reuss-style chord melody soloing that I figured I would share my take his style, and how I came to learn it, as well as sharing some insights into the hallmarks of his style. 

I mention two resources in the video that I wanted to provide links to:

1) Ivor Mairants: The Great Jazz Guitarists Part 1. Beside the transcription of Allan Reuss' solo on the 1936 recording of "If I Could Be with You" with Benny Goodman, there are some transcriptions of Eddie Lang, Dick McDonough, Carl Kress and George Van Eps. 

2) Rich Werden's Transcription of "Bye Bye Blues". Transcribing this tune escaped me for 15 years, and then my friend Rich does all the work, and even publishes for all to see. I truly think this is Allan's finest acheivement. While you're at it, you should probably buy the CD "The Complete Benny Carter on Keynote" - which contains not only the transcendant master take of "Bye Bye Blues", but also two alternate takes. 



Cool Book Alert: Deke's "A Strat in the Attic"

I wanted to share with you a fantastic book, Deke Dickerson's Strat in the Attic: Thrilling Stories of Guitar Archaeology which I devoured immediately after receiving it from amazon. 

For those unaware (and how could you be? shame on you!) Deke has been one of the leading lights of rockabilly and the roots/americana scene for years decades. I first met Deke when he was recording Jeremy Wakefield's "Steel Guitar Caviar" record, on which I played guitar. He's always been a super nice guy, and he even invited me to take part in his epic Guitar Geek Festival back in 2012 as a member of the All-Harvey Band. Here's a clip:

Anyway, Deke has been writing for various publications, including Guitar Player and Vintage Guitar Magazine, for years, and finally complied an amazing tome of "guitar archeology" as his first book. "A Strat in the Attic" isn't just gear for gear's sake (though there is plenty of guitar-nerd detail), it's about the stories behind the guitars in question, and these guitars' journeys through history. It's a fascinating read, and one you'll probably tear through in a sitting or two. 

Perhaps most notable for readers of this blog, is the story of how Lynn Wheelright found Charlie Christian's ES-250. Peter Broadbent's book, Charlie Christian: Solo Flight - The Seminal Electric Guitarist (also totally worth owning, by the way) has an appendix detailing the few gibson ES-150's and 250's Charlie Christian can be documented as having played. The ES-250 found by Lynn is the only guitar that has been definitely linked to Charlie. I won't spoil the story for you, but that should be reason enough to get Deke's book


Clip-On Mic: Trying Something New in Acoustic Amplification


photo by Steve Hwan (and ok, technically that is a Sure SM57 pictured, but you get the idea)

I've been happily using my Rode NT3 for years to mic my acoustic archtop guitars. Being the bandleader, I can demand such a specific solution. Recently I was noticing that even when using the low-profile mic stand I bought specifically for it, it was ruing almost every picture of me playing on that I happened to see on Facebook. Sort of a vain observation, but I never noticed how visually distracting it was. 

If it were just that, I'd live with it, because the sound quality is wonderful. But, on most of traveling gigs for the last couple months, and even some at home, I've found it to be difficult to get any stage volume out of it without it feeding back. It doesn't matter how good the guitar sounded if I can't hear even the slightest bit of it. Plus, even when I was getting some monitor, my acoustic guitar solos always seemed to get buried, even when I leaned in the mic.

Now, I should say the best sounding amplified acoustic archtop I've heard was when I saw the Sweet Hollywiians at Boulevard Music in Culver City, CA. Takashi Nakayama (who you've seen before on the blog) was using a DPA 4099 clip on mic, clipped onto the tailpiece pointed down at the top of the guitar. He told me he had it plugged into a mic pre before an AER amp, which provided a DI out to the house. Unfortunately, I've never had the $500+ to drop on the DPA. 

With that inspiration, I ended up trying something different at a recent gig. The sound guy mentioned he had a "clip on" mic for one of the horn players who was particularly delinquent about playing "on mic." I'm against clip on mic's for horn players, because usually my guys need to be able to "work the mic" a bit to help with balance and shading. Despite using amplification, we do try to keep the acoustic character as much as possible - though with certain rooms and certain sound guys, it's impossible. All that aside, I figured I might try the clip on mic for my guitar instead. 

Audio Technica Pro 35

The sound guy had an Audio-Technica PRO-35, which comes with it's own windscreen, gooseneck and clamp. It doesn't have a power pack inline, so you have to give it phantom power. We played three nights, with three of my different bands. The first night with my Grand Slam Sextet, I didn't use the mic, because I ended up playing my ES-150 electrically all night (which given that the band is clarinet-vibraphone-electric guitar as the leads, i was ok with, despite my hate for electric rhythm guitar). The next night was with the Campus Five, and I alternated between my Eastman 805 for rhythm and the ES-150 for leads and riffs. It was astounding how much acoustic volume I was able to get, and how clear and articulate the Eastman sounded. Because I wasn't slamming the guitar harder to get volume, I was able to play more relaxed and clean, and the tone dramatically improves when you're not throttling the guitar. It was some of the best playing I'd done on acoustic, and it was very satisfying to be heard for once. 

The only problem came when I would swap guitars. Because I had no way to turn of the PRO-35, I risked pointing the mic right at the monitors when I put it down to grab my electric. I figured out what direction to orient the stand and which way to turn the guitar as to not point it right into feedback, Even then, I didn't succeed at that 100%. 

The following night, with our 10-piece "pre-swing" band, the Rhythm Busters, I decided to only play my John LeVoi Petite Bouche selmer-style guitar. I've been trying to find ways to differentiate that band from my others, and changing guitars seemed like a good way to do that. At soundcheck, I was stoked because with the Pro 35 I could get enough stage and mains volume without feedback or bleed to "ride" over top of the band, like a clarinet player might do over a shout chorus, or more importantly like Django did in some recordings where he's the featured soloist backed by a big band (a version of "Moten Swing" comes to mind). Also, since Hilary was not this gig, I decided to substitute the melodies on guitar instead of skipping those songs. By then end of the night, I realized that playing Django-y lead guitar was giving the band a more signature sound, and I that can't think of anybody else doing a Django-led 30's Orchestra. Win-win. 

I should mention that for both guitars, I clipped the gooseneck onto the tailpiece, with the mic pointed down at the soundboard. 

When I got home from the weekend, I set at getting my own clip on mic. The PRO-35 is only around $150, but I noticed that it was decidedly on the lower end of Audio Technica's line. Checking out, I noticed they only carried two higher-end AT's, the AT831B  and the Pro 70. The AT831B has been used by some leading Gypsy players, through usually with a clip hanging on the soundhole. Neither mic came with a gooseneck, though both come with a power pack, so that you aren't dependent on the board for phantom power - of course, both can accept phantom as well. 

I ended up picking up an AT831B on craigslist, and then the AT8418 Gooseneck (which looks identical to the one the comes on the Audio-Technica PRO-35) on amazon, for a total just about $20 more than a PRO-35. I was hoping that AT831B would have even better sound quality, but I was worried that something about the improved quality or response would make less useable (like more susceptible to feedback, etc). Trying it out at home, I was able to get significant volume out plugged directly into a JBL Eon powered PA speaker, and it didn't seem overly susceptible to feedback.

But there was still the problem of how to prevent the guitar from feeding back when moving it around, say when I change from acoustic to electric for a solo. Checking online there were two main solutions: the Pro Co Sign Off  and the Rolls MS111. Both offered "latching" switching, so that I could turn the mic off via footswitch. The Rolls was cheaper, and it could be changed to "momentary" switch, meaning that I would only mute as long you held down the pedal. I can't say I know when that would be useful for me, but whatever. The ProCo was ~$75 and the Rolls ~$50. I went with cheaper Rolls, hoping I wouldn't end up with something junky for my cheapness. The Rolls arrived and it was more than rugged enough. Oh and since I would have to plug the Mic's power pack into the switch via XLR, before running into from the switch to the board, I bought a 1.5" XLR cable from monoprice as to keep things tidy, and not have a ton of excess cabling around. 

I finally used the new mic set up last Wednesday - WOW! What a great improvement over how I had been doing things. I was able to get a ton of volume out of the monitors and never had any problems with feedback. I played some of the best Reuss-style block-chord solos I've played live in a while, specifically because I could hear myself clearly, and could play without mashing my pick into the strings. What a difference! Further, the Rolls switch worked like a charm. It was very easy to mute the mic before switching to my electric. 

My Eastman with an AT831b/AT8418 combo into the MS111 mute switchI have to say after the four gigs - 2 using the PRO-35, and 2 using the AT831B - I'm pretty sure combo of the AT831BAT8418 Gooseneck, and Rolls MS111 is going to replace the NT-3 for most gigs. 

A final step I may eventually take would be to add an XLR A/B Switch after the Rolls. That way I could alternate between two mixer channels, a softer one for rhythm, and a louder one for leads. Even when we have the luxury of a sound guy who could turn up a guitar solo on the fly, it often takes them a couple seconds to recognize that there is a guitar solo going on, and sometimes when the solo is only 8 bars, they miss it entirely. However, because it would be plugged into two channels of the mixer, I would have to make sure phantom power was disabled, because it could damage the mic to receive both channels worth of phantom power.  

Photo by Jennifer Stockert

Also, the last gig we played with monitors, and boy, did I miss having my own monitor. I think I may have to step up and buy a smaller powered speaker, such as the Mackie SRM150 , or the larger Mackie SRM350v2 - because clearly, I need to bring more stuff to a gig....

Well, one step at a time. 



SOLD: 1998 Ibanez PM20 Pat Metheny Model

UPDATE: Sorry, the guitar has sold. 

It's finally time to sell my first jazz guitar - it's been sitting sadly alone, unplayed for too long. It's a wonderful instrument, but it just doesn't get the playing time it derserves. I got the guitar in the late summer of 1998 at Sam Ash in Canoga Park, CA. It came without a strap button, so the in-house repair guy, Randy, put one on. When he did, I liked it so much, he went and bought the other PM20 that was still on the shelf. It's served me well for many years, but has been since been replaced by more-suitable guitars. I can longer hold on to it, justifying it as a "back up." I've got 3 other arch tops with magnetic pickups, and an extra DeArmond guitar mic if those three go bad. For anyone that is interested in Campus Five history, this guitar was used on the album "Jammin' the Blues" (2003).

It's a great sounding laminate-body, single-humbucker jazz guitar. It currently has D'Angelico Flatwound 13's on it. I recorded a couple demo tracks of it, so you can here how it sounds. The first two tracks are played through a 1999 Peavey Classic 30, with the eq set flat. The third track is played through a 1946 Gibson BR-6 for a bit of breakup. I've done NO after processing of the guitar tone. Everything was recorded with a Blue Yeti straight into Garage Band.

Since this guitar is perhaps more appropriate for later styles of jazz than mine, I've recorded some "style"-copies, trying my best to ape the more-modern styles this guitar would be perfect for. Pardon the ridiculous drum beat behind the 3rd track, I was just looking for a Sco+MMW kind of groove and that was the closest thing I could find.
Also, for a more "swing" sound, just listen to any track of our 2003 album "Jammin' the Blues" (available at / / for a sample of that.

The true color of the guitar is a deep blonde color seen in the wider shots. There are three condition issues, on what is otherwise a very clean guitar. 1) There is a ding on the bass side lower bout, near the bottom of the guitar - right where it would be concealed by your arm. I've included three pictures - so you can see how it blends into the wood on the top at any distance. 2) There's a small finish chip on the back of the headstock. 3) Most of the gold hardware has some wearing-off of the gold plating. The guitar was kept in a gig bag for most of it's life, and the friction of the in-and-out took its toll. Guitar comes with an 1998 SKB Hardshell Dreadnaught Case, that I got when I bought the guitar. 

Guitar is $899. I'd expect shipping to run $40, but buyer to pay true cost of shipping. 





Updated Links Sidebar

After forgetting about it for too long, I've updated the links section of the sidebar. I've also added some organization to make it easier to navigate through the list. 

First and foremost, I wanted to mention that - a website that was very influencial on the birth of my swing guitar playing and our band - is now back up and running. It was not functional for a long time, and I only noticed it was back up when I was updating the list. It has a laundry list of important early jazz guitar players, and has a huge selection of solo excerpts from these players. Nowhere else on the web, or anywhere else for that matter, is there a collection of Allan Reuss solos, for example, or Irving Ashby, or Carmen Mastren Solos, etc. Plus many of these excerpts are a bit hard to find: Allan Reuss's solos on "Pickin' for Patsy", "I Never Knew" with Peck's Bad Boys, or "Bye Bye Blues" with the Arnold Ross Quartet feat. Benny Carter, are all mind-meltingly good. 

Other things you should check out:

TK Smith - not only does TK play amazing guitar, but he fabricates amazing Bigsby-inspired guitars and guitar parts, and he posts inspiring clips of vintage jazz, western and country guitar, some of which are of his own fantastic playign. The earlier in electric jazz guitar you go, the greater the nexus between western and jazz guitar, and players like the early Les Paul and George Barnes could easily have been considered to be playing either at any time. 

Elektra Amps - an amazing collaboration between a German, two Dutch guys and an Austrialian, the guys at Elektra are attempted to resurect the sound of the classic Gibson EH-185 amplifer. Being stuck here in America, I haven't yet gotten to play one, but I can't wait!

Studio Slips - custom made equipment covers. I have had two covers made, one for the cabinet of my EH-185, and one for the head of the EH-185 (I carry the head separately to keep from damaging the cabinet). They are really well made, and very durable, and and furthermore, completely customizable. I highly recommend them as a way to keep from abusing your amps and other gear. 



Bonus videos: "Coquette", "I'm Confessin'" and "Rose Room"

Here's a couple bonus videos I recorded. I'm not going to a whole discussion of each tune, but I didn't want to leave these unposted. Cheers. 


I don't really play "Coquette" very often. In fact, if you look carefully, there's a second when the first bridge comes, you can see me waiting to hear where it goes. I just had my playalong playlist on shuffle, and this is what came up. The changes are very, very simple: just I-V7, and back for the A sections, and a "Honeysuckle" bridge (I7-IV-II7-V7). 

I'm Confessin' 

One of my favorite ballads, "I'm Confessin'" is something I often noodle on when I pick up a guitar. 

Rose Room

"Rose Room" has particular significance for the electric guitar, since it's the song that made Benny Goodman take notice of Charlie Christian. 


Video: Diga Diga Doo

This time, we visit "Diga Diga Doo." 

Again the set up is my ES-150 through the EH-160, and playing over backing tracks the I've published here and that can be found at 

"Diga Diga Doo" is oe of the first songs I learned when I started learning Swing guitar playing, and it's been a staple of the Campus Five's repitoire since the band's first gig. The A sections are basically a Dminor vamp. Simple chords can be "easy" on one level - there's nothing to "mess up" - but on another level, it's al the more difficult because static chords provide no new stimulus, and it's on you to make something happen, melodically. Here is a PDF: "Diga Diga Doo" (PDF)

click to enlarge

The first four bars of the A section are sometimes played as simply Dminor, but other times there is a line cliche: Dm, Dm/C#, Dm/C, Dm/B - two beats each, repeated twice. Don't feel the need to outline the line cliche - it's just a texture underneath whatever you play. 

As for the bridge, it's another common sequence that can be found in "Swing, Brother, Swing", among others. The sequence C7-F, D7-Gm-A7 feels sort of like a "Honeysuckle" bridge (I7-IV-II7-V7), but dropped a step. I wrote a D7b9 on the leadsheet as a warning to somebody who's not reading ahead that the D7 resolves to a Gminor, rather than a Gmajor. 


Modern Gear for the Vintage Player

I've been gushing about my recent vintage acquisition, so it's time I talk about something everybody can get there hands on: modern gear for the vintage player. When I started playing Swing Guitar there were few options outside of actual vintage, and what options there were still lacked for vintage sound or vintage looks. Now there are several really outstanding options, and if I were starting all over again, and vintage wasn't an option, here's what I'd get.

Acoustic Archtop: The Loar LH-600 ($999 retail) / LH-700 ($1499 retail)

Photo by David O'Brien

I've been an Eastman player for a long time, but I think Loar is really where the action is for the vintage-minded player. Aesthetically, Eastman has pretty much ignored the Jazz-era/Swing-era market, and while I think their guitars are excellent sounding, the Chuck Wayne-70's vibe is a turn-off, plus I think the the steeper cost is just enough of an impediment for players starting out.  

I've come across Loar LH-600's in the wild for sometime now - Katie Cavera played hers subbing for me while I was playing drums on a gig, and our pal Dave Stuckey uses one, and I've played it several times - but the first time that I really got to play one for an extended period was at Lindy Focus, where Michael Gamble lent me his. Since I was traveling with my ES-150, I needed an acoustic archtop, and the LH-600 did a fantastic job. 

Photo by David O'Brien

Like many guitars, the LH-600 really came into it's own with the right strings and a proper set up. I slapped a .013 set of Martin SP 80/20's on it, and adjusted the bridge slightly. The change was immediate and impressive - Michael could hardly believe it was the same guitar. Then again, I've had a proper set up be a game-changer before, and all it does is allow the guitar live up to it's full potential. I played it all week long, and was really impressed with its response. The Loars are parallel braced (unlike the Eastmans which are X-braced), and I think the punchier response works well for rhythm guitar playing. X-braced guitars can sound fuller or rounder, but much of that is lost in a band setting, and the extra fullness can lead to muddiness instead. Especially once properly set up with .013's and the top breaks in, the LH-600 is tough to beat. Man, if these had been available when I started out… 

For the money, and for a player with any mind for vintage aesthetics, you really can't be the Loar LH-600. I've heard the LH-700's are even better, but I haven't played one myself yet. 

Electric Archtop: The Loar LH-309 ($599 retail)

One of the guitar players from Hedgehog Swing in Long Beach, CA, Gage Hulsey, asked me about what I'd recommend for an electric archtop for somebody exploring Charlie Christian-type playing coming from the Gypsy Jazz world. At first I wasn't sure what to recommend, but after a little research, the Loar LH-309 is the pretty clear choice. The specs and construction are as close to a 40's Gibson electric such as a post-war ES-150 or ES-125 as anything being made now. 

I would definitely avoid humbuckers, because I think their tone is really the wrong choice for pre-bebop jazz guitar. Humbuckers just sound too full and clean - plus the higher output and bass response tend to exacerbate the problems when having to play rhythm guitar on an electric. 

The only compromise on the LH-309 is the laminate back and sides, which I don't think you'll miss on a fully-electric guitar. Plus, even guitars like post-war ES-150's and ES-125's sometimes had laminate backs and sides. Combined with a suitable vintage-y amplifier, you've got the easiest way to get a 40's electric guitar tone.

Electric Guitar Amp: Peavey Classic 30 ($649 street) / Vintage 47 Amps Ric-Style Supreme ($698 actual)


If you want a cheap, no-nonsense, completely fungible vintage-esque guitar amplifier, you can't really go wrong with a Peavey Classic 30. I played one for many years, and I still bring it out every once in a while when I need more power than an actual vintage amp can provide. However a higher powered amp can be overkill for some settings, leaving the tone too loud, clean and twangy.

One trick to keep it from sounding too clean and twangy is to use the distortion channel with the gain just barely noticeable. You can keep the gain just on the verge of breakup at a variety of volume levels that way. You can probably find a used one on craigslist or ebay for cheap, and it's easily serviceable basically forever. Furthermore, even if it fell off a cliff, you could just as easily buy another that would basically be exactly the same. Similar Fenders, such as the Blues Deluxe are more expensive without really sounding any better. I wouldn't recommend the smaller Fender Blues Junior, because I find them underpowered. If you can spend more, get the suggestion below, or go with a reputable Tweed Deluxe from somebody like Victoria Amps. 

The more authentic choice is the absurdly reasonably-priced Ric-Style Supreme from Vintage 47 amps. Based on a  circuit from a vintage Valco amp from the 40's, Vintage 47 amps use Octal preamp tubes, which makes them the closest thing to a 30's Gibson. The permanent magnet speakers are the only modern concession, though they've been trying to find a way to source field-coil speakers for quite a while. You're not going to find a 40's circuit and 40's cosmetics for under $700 anywhere else. The only caveat is that they are pretty low wattage (which is authentic), and there may be some settings where you may have to mic it. Still, it's the real deal. 

Django-Style Guitar: Gitane GJ-10 ($409 street) / Altamira M30 ($1250 street)

This is another case where if they'd had a reasonably priced options when I was starting, I'd definitely have jumped at them. Saga Cigano line really changed the market providing reasonably priced selmer-style guitars when there really hadn't been any before then. Their budget Gitane line brings a decent guitar into almost anybody's reach. Again, I think this is a case where a proper set up and suitable strings are necessary to make the guitar live up to its potential. Of course, a $400 guitar doesn't sound as good as a Dupont or Favino. However, authentic gypsy guitars have an ugly, nasal quality that allows them to cut through a band, and some modern luthiers tend to try make the guitars sound fuller and prettier, almost attempting to make them more like a dreadnaught. The Gitanes are actually more authentic sounding than some fancy luthier-made guitars.

The set-up is the Altamira line. You can read the full scoop at, which coincidentally is a great place to buy them, these are the same guitars that Dell'Arte brings in from Asia and sells as the Latcho Drom line. From all the sources I've talked to, these are the best buy in gyspy-jazz guitars. 


Video: "Tea for Two"

Here's another video of me jamming over some backing tracks, this time "Tea for Two." I don't quite understand the pink cast to the lighting, but like I mentioned, I'm still getting things worked out. 

Again the set up is my ES-150 through the EH-160, and playing over backing tracks the I've published here and that can be found at

"Tea for Two" is a tune I first learned to play with the Bonebrake Syncopators. Again, it was another tune that confounded me for a while, until I figured out how to approach it. There was something about the ii-V's that I could only approach from one direction, the most obvious one: arpeggios overtly spelling out the changes. It just never felt good to play over. 

One of the best ways to learn how to approach a tune is to learn how one of your favorite players approaches it, so I learned Charlie Christian's two choruses (from the 1939 Jerry Jerome Jam-Session). After learning Charlie's solo, it totally opened my eyes about the changes. Here's a PDF of the leadsheet: Tea for Two (PDF)

click to enlarge

"Tea for Two" is a basically ABAC, though the last two bars of the second A are slightly different to set up the C. The A and B sections are both a series of ii-V-I's, first in Ab, then in C. What I took from Charlie was that it made much better sense to simplify the ii-V's into just V chords. Even then, he would sometime just play I-chord based blues lick over the V chord.  

Simplifying the ii-V's was especially helpful when the B section comes up. For some reason, transitioning from Ab6 to Dm7 made no sense. But starting on a G7 V-chord lick made sense. Lastly, the key change back to Ab - I always had trouble trying voice lead from the C to the Eb7. Charlie just played one lick over one, and then one lick over the other. Boom. 

The second A section is the same, except for the last two bars: a iim7b5-V7 to Bbm. I find that outlining the three chords is again tilting at windmills. I dimished lick over both the ii and V is easier to deal with. 
Finally the C section is a Bbm vamp (ii) with a Dbm (iv) resolving back the Ab (I) chord - just like in Limehouse Blues, and several other tunes. The last four bars is another I-iii˚-ii-V sequence, like in "Swing that Music" and many other tunes. 



Video: "Swing that Music"

As suggested by my friend Kim Clever, I'm going to start doing semi-regular videos, mostly just jamming over some backing tracks, although I'll hopefully be able do some more concerted things as well. I'm still working on getting a permanent  video solution set up - my wife had to shoot these by hand. 

Apologies if you've already seen this via Facebook, but this was taken right around Christmas and it's just me playing my new ES-150 through my EH-160. It was hard to get any kind of useful volume level out of the 160 using my other guitars, but there's something about the response of the pickup that matches the amp perfectly. At least for playing around the house, the volume level is more than enough. I've found it particularly sweet sounding, and especially "Charlie" sounding, when the amp is cranked, but the volume knob is rolled mostly down. 

"Swing That Music" is a tune I never get to play. It's a signature tune for our trumpet player Jim Ziegler, and something he usually reserves to do with his own band, the Swingsations. The times I'd encountered it, I was just stuck with a lead sheet from a hand-written Dixieland Fakebook, and because the way it was written, I always messed up the changes. Specifically, the ABAC structure of the tune is straight forward enough, but the lead sheet was written in a way that made it hard to pickup the C section at the right spot on the page. Suffice it to say, it's not the lead sheet's fault I didn't just learn the tune instead. When I finally got around to learning, I found the changes give a lot of nice stuff to work with. 

The backing track can be found on my soundcloud - - along with many other songs. Heres a PDF of the lead sheet: Swing That Music (PDF)

(click to enlarge)

The A section is just two bars each: I - IV7 - I - VI7 (Bb / Eb7 / Bb / G7). Like "Undecided" and "Sing You Sinners" as well as many other tunes, the I-IV7 movement is chance to either play a lick that has a D natural in it against the I chord, and then play something that changes the note to a Db over the IV7 chord. Alternatively it can be nice to play a lick without a D in it over both chords and see how that static lick feels different over each chord. The I - VI7 move is another standard one. I find the melody emphasizing D, A and G over the G7 chord to be particularly telling about how to approach that change. For many years, I seized on the voice leading of Bb notes over the Bb chord to a B natural over the G7 chord, and emphasized that change. However, I don't find that as many well-written song melodies contain that movement, and I think that should be telling. While mechanically running through changes and highlighting the notes that have changed from chord-to-chord technically "works", that doesn't necessarily mean those notes are "pleasing" or make a good sounding melody. 

The B strain is just a II7 - V7 (C7-F7), followed by a I - iii˚ - II7 - V7 turnaround (Bb-Db˚-C7-F7). I've seen the last II chord there be both min7 and dominant7, and realistically you kind of make it work either way, melodically. 

Following the second A strain, is a C strain. Part of what makes the tune interesting, and part of what always messed me up, is that the G7 resolves to a C MAJOR type chord the first time, but to a C MINOR type chord the second time. Also, the changes here move quickly, and if you're thinking mechanically, it can be more difficult than it looks. 

The C changes go ii - iv˚ - I - VI7 (Cm-Eb˚-Bb-G7). While it's written here as an Eb dimished, I think that functionally it's interchangeable with an Eb minor. The ii-iv-I change is a common one found is several tunes, such as Limehouse Blues, China Boy, Avalon. Charlie Christian often made a post of emphasizing iv-I resolutions, even placing them where the band did not play them. You can either highlight the voice leading, in this case G-Gb-F, or avoid those notes and let chords resolve underneath. Either way, watch out for the G7 chord, because even I'd threaded the changes up to that point, I'd usually forget about it, and be emphasizing a Bb note over the G7 by mistake. After the ii-iv-I, it's just a VI7-II7-V7-I back cycle. Anyway, the video is just a single take blowing over the changes. Hope something here is useful. Cheers. 


The unexpected realities of the new guitar

So, playing-wise, it's all sunshine and unicorns - the new ES-150 is really inspiring, and has made me play guitar so much more than would otherwise. It's great, and moreover, it's special. 

That said, there are some practical concerns I hadn't really thought about, and I hope you may find them useful. 

How many frets?

So it turns out I've been used to 20-22 frets my whole life. Since starting to play swing guitar, I'd been systematically been weening myself off of playing past the 15th fret, because, to my ears, it sounds exceedingly anachronistic. However, there were a couple keys, or a couple licks where I snuck past. However, I discovered while playing "China Boy" that where'd been expecting to be able to hit a high "C" at the 20th fret, that a vintage ES-150 only has 19 frets, so I couldn't resolve the it. There's a video and it's pretty funny to watch me leading up to where the note should have been and then finding it wasn't there. Oops. 

Tuners have come along way 

So, truth be told, the build quality of an ES-150 is more like an L50, and not that of an L5. It wasn't exactly the top of the line, and so the Grover Sta-Tites it came with weren't quite as good as the closed back tuners that came on L5's and other nice Gibsons. Moreover, tuners have come a long way since then, and gear ratios have gotten so much better. I've read that the original tuners are 12:1, which wouldn't surprise me - it can be a little annoying trying to get a string in tune when you can't quite get the tuner to sit in between too sharp and too flat. Since they were pretty common, there are direct drop in replacements with modern ratios. While I could've gone with Grovers with a pretty awesome 18:1 ratio, I took the advice of several good sources and went with Waverlys. While only being 16:1, I've seen too many sources to count that describe them as just the best tuners made. A historic instrument I plan on having for life seems like a good place to invest in the good stuff. I could've saved $100, but I think'll be worth it. They're on on the Fedex truck at moment, so we'll see how things turn out. 

Do you realize how ill fitting most cases are?

Getting the original tweed/airplane stripe case was of course too good to be true, but the ES-150 came with a servicable standard hardshell case, usually known as "Canadian" cases. I was really surprised by how much wiggle room there was, and thus how much the guitar can bounce around inside the case. It wasn't until I flew the guitar to North Carolina using the Case Extreme and the hardshell case that I noticed how mediocre the fit of the hardshell was. While I've had 10 years of succesful travel with the Case Extreme, I was usually flying a guitar in a gig bag, or a hardshell that was designed for that guitar. I started looking at cases, and because of the "off-the-rack" nature of almost all cases, there's usually a significant amount of room. I guess that's fine for something fungible, but for something historic, that just won't do. 

Flight cases are really, really expensive

So I started looking at proper, custom built flight cases. Holy crap are they expensive! Calton cases are basically the old-school, industry standard. However they are $1000 now, and they're really heavy. New cases from Karura and Hoffee are still $1000-$1200, but because they're using Carbon Fiber, they are a great deal lighter. All three are built to order based off extensive measurements of your guitar, so they will fit like a glove, but it may only be a one-trick pony. On the cheaper end, Hiscox's nicest case is a proper flight case, but has off-the-rack fitting. A newer entry, BAM from France, $700, uses a suspension padding system to customize the fit of the off-the-rack cases, but I noticed they try to sell you a $300 case cover, which makes it a flight case. So, is the $700 core case not sufficient? Again, given the historic nature of the guitar, I'm probably going to go with a Hoffee. Go their site - watch the videos - those things are unbelievable. 

The new Reunion Blues Continental Gig Bags are pretty awesome

So they advertise these things by shooting a video where they drop it off a 4 story building. While I'm not confident that would actually work on a guitar like mine. However, the combination of a really well padded-gig bag with a semi-rigid exoskeleton is a real breakthough in gig bags. Each and every facet of the gig bag is well thought out, with the hideable backpack straps being particularly amazing.